Welcome to Pellissippi Parkway's Language Quiz Archives

Previous Quick Quizzes and their Answers

hr Quick Quiz 42:
From the Writers Almanac, this description of 'Woody Guthrie:
He was one of the only American artists whose reputation never really suffered, though he was openly affiliated with the Communist Party.
This sentence is oddly constructed. As it stands, it reads that Woody Guthrie was among the "only American artists who never suffered" - or would, if "reputation" weren't singular. The phrase "one of the only" is strange in itself, and it's a bit unclear from the context whether Guthrie is the only one, or among a small group. It's awkward and unclear all around.
I would suggest rewriting this to "one of the few American artists whose reputation never really suffered".

Quick Quiz 41:

From the Cassini-Huygens site, this description of a photo:
Curving wakes perturb the edges of the Encke Gap in Saturn's A ring. The culprit in their creation is the flying saucer-shaped moon Pan, shining brightly within the gap.
This one's pretty simple - not enough hyphens! Pan is not "flying and shaped like a saucer", it is "shaped like a flying saucer". It's "the flying-saucer-shaped moon".

When combining modifiers into one, you need to hyphenate all the elements being joined. Quick Quiz 40:

At esurance.com if we can't give you the best deal we'll show you where you can.
This is a case of over-elision - leaving too much out.

In English, you can leave out anything that would be duplicated - but only that which would be duplicated. Stephen Colbert's new book title is a wonderful example of WTF deletion (so to speak): I Am America (And You Can Too!). Even though what's being left out is another form of "to be", it simply can't be omitted in this case. It really needs to be "and you can be too".

In this esurance ad, they've omitted the verb phrase which follows "can" - and by doing so, they've told you that it's a repeat of the verb phrase you already read: "give you the best deal". Unfortunately for them, that makes no sense.

What they wanted to omit was just "the best deal" - though because "get" is obligatorily transitive, they still need to supply the object (though they can de-emphasize it by using a pronoun):

At esurance.com if we can't give you the best deal we'll show you where you can get it.
You just can't leave out what hasn't been introduced already. Otherwise, you're expecting your readers to read more than your words: you're expecting them to read your mind.

Quick Quiz 39:

I found this over at Talking Points Memo:
Of course, if those things were somehow proven, provided those statements are even accurate descriptions of things that happened, the $250,000 from that convicted fraudster would be pocket change to whomever could.
This is a fairly common error - and one that actually does result from hypercorrection, that is, from being uncertain of the correct form and coming up with an incorrect one.

"Whomever" is the object case. But although "to whomever" is correct, "to whomever could" is not. That's because the entire clause is the object of "to", and the clause must be grammatically correct. That is, the subject of the clause must be in nominative (subject) case. "Whoever could" is correct, thus "to whoever could".

Once we'd have said "to him whoever could". But as English loses its case forms, word order is more important, and such indications of case fall by the wayside. Just remember: Clauses come first.

Quick Quiz 38:

The host of Bargain Hunters sums up the rules of the show:
The contestants get 200 pounds and go out into a fair; they only get one hour and "they buy something they think is a bargain. It goes into an auction and the name of the game is to make a profit. And hopefully if they do make a profit they get to keep it. What could be fairer than that?"
"Hopefully" can in fact be used as a sentence modifier, meaning not "in a hopeful manner" but "I say hopefully" - compare "candidly, verily, honestly, frankly" - none of them attract the ire that "hopefully" does, but they're all used in the same way.

But "hopefully" is the problem here. It's misplaced. As a sentence adverb, it has to modify the whole sentence, and here that means the implication is that the contestants might not actually get the money if they make a profit.

What he wants to say is something like "Hopefully they'll make a profit, and if they do they get to keep it.

Quick Quiz 37:

This is from the NCAA site:
Check out our WCWS Blog from Oklahoma City or email well-wishes to your favorite WCWS team and players.
This is enormously common and stems from the fact that "well" is both an adjective and an adverb - but with different meanings. "Well" as an adverb is the irregularly formed adverb of "good"; as an adjective it means "healthy".

Now, adverbs are not used in English to modify nouns. For instance, using a normal derived adverb, we see: "I wish you ran quickly" -> "I wish you were a quick runner." But "well" is not a flat adverb, one with the same form in both functions such as the flat adverb "fast" - he runs fast / he is a fast runner); it's irregular. "Well wishes" is formed from "I wish you well", but you have to used the adjective - and that's "good".

"Well wishes" works if by "I wish you well" you mean "I wish you were well" (get well wishes). But if you mean "I wish good things for you" your wishes are "good wishes".

Remember the old aphorism: Do well by doing good.

Quick Quiz 36:

From an article in my hometown paper:
Firemen brings balloon, more to schools
My sister the fire chief would argue for "firefighters", but the undeniable error here is that number-agreement problem. Firemen "bring" things, they don't "brings" them.

Quick Quiz 35

From an article in the local paper:
South Grove is a good investment for taxpayers who live both inside and outside the city of Knoxville.
This sentence means that it's not a good investement for taxpayers who live either inside or outside the city, only for those with two homes. That's not what they wanted to say.

The problem is the placement of "both". This word makes what follows it apply equally to what precedes it. For instance, "I own both dogs and cats," "He likes both movies and plays," "She speaks both English and Russian." Thus, "He lives both here and there" must mean he lives, well, both places, not either place.

South Grove is a good investment for taxpayers who live either inside or outside the city of Knoxville.
South Grove is a good investment for all taxpayers whether they live inside or outside the city of Knoxville.
Quick Quiz 34
From an entry in Wikipedia:
The Velikovsky/Ackerman catastrophism also reveals many facts still unknown in uniformitarian (academic) circles, concerning the other planets.
Remember: I'm looking for something grammatically wrong, not factually!

The problem here is the comma. Now, we can argue over whether punctuation is really grammar; you can't hear it, after all. But it is important, whatever we call it, and here it does serve a grammatical function.

Commas are often overused. They set off serialized, introductory, and parenthetical items, for the most part. [They're also used with quotes, vocatives (the person being addressed, as in "Elementary, my dear Watson."), and with dates and places.] Here, "concerning the other planets" should not be set off by a comma, as it is not parenthetical - that is, unnecessary - information. Moreover, the comma indicates that it is to be associated with "circles" instead of "facts".

But can you actually write the sentence without the comma?

The Velikovsky/Ackerman catastrophism also reveals many facts still unknown in uniformitarian (academic) circles concerning the other planets.
No, you can't, can you? Although the comma makes it a parenthetical connected with "circles", leaving the comma out makes it a simple and straightforward phrase: circles concerning the other planets. Does that make much sense? No, which is probably why the comma was put in. Unfortunately, the comma didn't solve the problem.

Some rewriting is needed - putting the phrase somewhere else. The writer would need to be careful to make sure that "still unknown" modifies "facts", probably another reason this writer went with the comma as he did. For instance, this doesn't work:

The Velikovsky/Ackerman catastrophism also reveals many facts concering the other planets still unknown in uniformitarian (academic) circles.
Setting this phrase off with commas, thus marking it as a parenthetical elaboration, works:
The Velikovsky/Ackerman catastrophism also reveals many facts, concerning the other planets, still unknown in uniformitarian (academic) circles, concerning the other planets.
Works, did I say? Okay - it's clear, but it's still ugly. Awkward. What is needed is some heavy-duty rewriting, something like this:
The Velikovsky/Ackerman catastrophism also reveals many facts concerning the other planets, facts which are still unknown in uniformitarian (academic) circles, concerning the other planets.

Or, even better:

The Velikovsky/Ackerman catastrophism also reveals many facts which concern the other planets but are still unknown in uniformitarian (academic) circles.

Comma placement's important - but commas can't do it all. Quick Quiz 33

From an interoffice memo:
The team is developing a list of skills and knowledge's needed by the analyst of the future.
First things first: "team" is singular in American and plural in British. Whether "team is" is right or wrong depends on where you are.

The problem here is the plural form knowledge's.

Apostrophes are a relatively new thing in English. You can't hear them, and their use took a long time to be standardized. Lots of people have problems with them. Many people want to do what this one did: use an apostrophe after a vowel. But that's not what determines it.

The apostrophe is used to mark either missing letters (in contractions like can't or we'll or he's (can not, we will, he is)) - or to show the possessive of nouns (John's, dog's, dogs', women's) but not pronouns (which is why it's not it's meaning "belonging to it").

So, knowledge's means "belonging to knowledge". The plural of knowledge is just knowledges. (The final E gets pronounced now, but it doesn't call for an apostrophe.)

The use of a plural of "knowledge", by the way, is jargony. Abstract nouns generally don't have plurals; "knowledge" to mean "item/piece of knowledge; skill; ability" is limited in its use. Whether you want to do it will depend on your topic and your audience.

Quick Quiz 32

From the Biography Channel's ad for Sherlock Holmes:
He thrives on the dizzying, delights in the bizarre, and relishes in the puzzling.
The answer here is: Their love of parallelism (thrives on, delights in, relishes in) has led them to make what's called 'an argument error' - the verb relish doesn't use the preposition in - or any preposition, for that matter. You don't 'relish in' something, you just 'relish it'. This should read:
He thrives on the dizzying, delights in the bizarre, and relishes the puzzling.
If they really wanted to keep up the parallel structure, they need another verb, perhaps 'revel':
He thrives on the dizzying, delights in the bizarre, and revels in the puzzling.
If you're ever uncertain about the arguments (that is, the way the words that go with the verb, or noun for that matter) that a verb takes, I recommend using a good dictionary such as the Longman Advanced American Dictionary (it even has a CD version with pronunciation and grammar tips). Such a dictionary does more than merely define words; it gives usage and argument structures as well.

Quick Quiz 31:

From the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve site:
So, although the oak moths can periodically wreak havoc on certain trees, oaks and oak moths have been coevolving for a long time and can be viewed as one of the many conspicuous insects of the Reserve
The problem here is a mismatch between the coordinated subject of the matrix clause (or the main clause, if you prefer that term) and its predicate in the second part. The sentence, as it stands, tells us that "oaks and oak moths" (subject) "have been coevolving" (first part of coordianted predicate) and are "one of the insects of the Reserve" (second part).

Oaks are an insect? Not when last I looked.

For comparison, look at this:

The Johnson brothers and the Smith sisters have been playing tennis for a long time and are among the best players on the women's team.
It doesn't work.

English permits - almost demands - deletion of repeated parts of sentences. But here, the deleted subjec of the second part of the matrix clause is only part of the subject which was overtly stated in the first part.

That subject, if deleted, must be assumed to be the subject of the second predicate in its entirety. In other words, the only way to have two predicate verb phrases with only one expressed subject is to have the exact same subject for both verb phrases.

If the predicate verb phrases have different subjects (as here, where one is "oaks and oak moths" and the other is only "oak moths"), then the subjects must both be stated.

Something along the lines of:

So, although the oak moths can periodically wreak havoc on certain trees, oaks and oak moths have been coevolving for a long time, and the moths can be viewed as one of the many conspicuous insects of the Reserve.
Or, to eliminate the repetition of "oak moths" (three times in the above version!), this:
So, although the oak moths can periodically wreak havoc on certain trees, they have been coevolving with oaks for a long time and can be viewed as one of the many conspicuous insects of the Reserve.

Quick Quiz 30
From a lawyer's advertising:

If you or someone you love is suffering from mesothelioma – or has died as a result of it – contact us today for a free evaluation of your case.

There's nothing wrong with this one!

Did you want "are suffering" and "have died"? That would have been right with and, but it's wrong with or , because the conjunction or does not add the two parts together (as and does). Therefore, when either or or its negative version nor is used, and both parts of the subject are singular, the verb is singular. When one part is singular (or is "I") and the other is plural (or is "you"), the verb agrees with whichever part is closer to it. Yes, you finally get to use 'agreement by the nearest'!

So, "you or a loved one is", "you or John is", "you or I am" and "John or you are". Whether the subject comes before or after the verb doesn't matter; the proximity determines the number. (After the verb? Yes, as in questions, where are would be right here: "Are you or someone you love suffering?")

Quick Quiz 29
From a "Whole grain Tiger Power cereal" commercial:

The mother monkey says: "I think his muscles are growing, but protein? It doesn't just grow on trees around here."

This one is somewhat similar to the last quiz, in that it involves negation, which is often syntactically complicated. That one was "has yet to comment"; this one is "doesn't just grow" - and it's complicated by that "just". "Just" is a particle, an adverb-like word that changes the meaning rather drastically (compare with a true adverb such as "quickly"). Particles, like adverbs, modify the word they're next to: "it just grows on trees" means something different than "it grows just on trees" (the former means either that it grows without any effort on anyone's part, or that it only grows on trees and doesn't do anything else there).

Presumably the reverse of momma monkey's statement would be "it just grows on trees around here", meaning that no effort was required to obtain protein for her child, as it was readily to hand, growing on the trees. But she probably wants to say the opposite - that protein can't be readily had because it doesn't grow on the trees - and that's not what she actually says. What she says is that growing on trees around here is only one of the things protein does.

It's that pesky 'not'. And the fact that in English, all lexical verbs (that is, all verbs other than "be" and modals such as "could") are made negative by using an auxillary verb "do" - angels speaking modern English would say "don't fear" instead of "fear not", and we say "I don't know" not "I know not". So, in the statement from the commercial the "not" is negating the whole phrase "just grows on trees", not merely the "grows" part. Or, to put it another way, the "just" is modifying "grows", not "doesn't grow".

What momma monkey ought to be saying is, "Protein? It just doesn't grow on trees around here."

All adverb placement is important, but particle placement is crucially so. Look at these:

  1. Just it doesn't grow on trees around here.
  2. It just doesn't grow on trees around here.
  3. It doesn't just grow on trees around here.
  4. It doesn't grow just on trees around here.
  5. It doesn't grow on just trees around here.
  6. It doesn't grow on trees just around here.
  7. It doesn't grow on trees around just here.
There's a difference -- and usually a major difference (4 and 5 are close, though not identical) -- in the meanings of these sentences.

When using particles (just, only, even and so on), place them carefully. Know what you mean to say - and say it.

Quick Quiz 28
from ESPN Sports Center:

Neither Robinson or his team has yet to comment.

A couple of problems with this one. First, despite the supposed prohibition on "double negatives", Standard English couples "neither" with "nor", not "or" - which goes with "either".

Both "neither" and "nor" can be used alone, of course, though "nor" needs another negative. "Nor" (meaning 'not or') is one of the few negatives (still) allowed to function as a reinforcer in a sentence and is generally found with another negative - as "Robinson has not commented, nor has his team."

"Neither" (meaning 'not either (of)') can stand alone, being all the negative a sentence needs: "Neither (of them) has commented." (Note, too, that "neither" is normally restricted to two things, with "none" seving for more than two - or the negative put elsewhere, as "None of Robinson, his team, nor the owner have commented" or "Robinson, his team, and the owner have not commented.")

So that's the first thing - the "neither - or" construction. But changing "or" to "nor" doesn't help much: "Neither Robinson nor his team has yet to comment" sounds as bad.

The other problem is that "yet". There are constructions in which it can mean "still" - things like "and for all I know, he is there yet". Mostly, though, it means pretty much the opposite of "still" - which makes the question "is he doing it yet?" ambiguous for some speakers. When coupled with "have + infinitive", however, it means that the action of the verb has not happened - though it is expected to.

"I have yet to read the book" = "I have not read the book yet" = "I have not read the book but I will read it"

Now we get into what makes this sentence so deeply weird. "Yet" has what's called negative scope. "They have yet to comment" means "they have not commented so far". So we have two negative scope items here - and that's not the same as the typical 'double' which is really 'intensifying'. That "neither have yet to comment" is the same as "neither have not commented so far." And that isn't English.

Robinson and his team have yet to comment.
Neither Robinson nor his team has commented so far.
Neither Robinson nor his team has commented yet.
Note, please, that the versatile word "yet" can function in this sentence as long as "comment" is not in the infinitive. "They haven't yet commented, they haven't commented yet, neither has yet commented": all of these work.

Quick Quiz 27

From a website on collie genetics:
It is almost impossible, for instance to find a collie which is both free of eye defects and the genes which cause them.
Two things:
First, and least important, is a punctuation error: there should be another comma after "for instance". That's an adverbial, modifying the following clause, not part of either clause. So it should be set off by two commas.

The second thing is that "both" has been misplaced. Like "and" (and other conjunctions), "both" links like things - in this case, both things are what the collie "is". The sentence is saying that it is almost impossible to find a collie which is two things: (1) free of eye defects, and (2) the genes which cause them.

What the writer wanted was to put the "both" after "free of" - it is almost impossible to find a collie which is free of two things: (1) eye defects) and (2) the genes which cause them.

It's true that the impossibility of a collie "being" genes makes this sentence 'just' awkward. But suppose this person wanted to find a collie that had neither bad eyes nor the (to some) undesirable merle coloring. If she wrote, "I want to find a collie that is both free of eye defects and merle", then she is saying the opposite of what she wants. (Well, nearly the opposite: she said she wants a merle collie that's free of eye defects, not a merle with bad eyes.) What she would need to write is: "I want to find a collie which is free of both eye defects and merle."

The thing to remember is: "both" links the two things that follow it, and relates them in the same way the what comes before it. X is both Y and Z = X is Y and X is Z. X is free of both Y and Z = X is free of Y and X is free of Z. (Note: "neither" does the same thing, only negatively: X is neither Y nor Z = X is not Y and X is not Z.

Quick Quiz 26

From a contract for buying a purebred dog:

Buyer agrees that if at any time the buyer wishes to destroy or give away the dog, Buyer will return dog to Seller and will not be given away, destroyed, or relinquished to a pound or shelter.

I'm quite sure the Buyer does agree not to be given away, destroyed, or relinqushed to a pound. I'm also fairly sure that it's the dog the Seller wanted to get that agreement on. But that's not what the contract says.

The problem here is that we have an "and" joining two clauses: "will return" and "will not be given away". Both of them have the same subject, "Buyer" - that's the way that "and" works. When any parts of a clause following "and" are omitted, they must be the same as in the clause that came before. Or, another way to say it, "and" joins like things. You can only leave out things that are the same.

There are a number of ways this sentence could be fixed. The simplest is to insert "dog" and make two complete sentences, with nothing left out:

Buyer agrees that if at any time the buyer wishes to destroy or give away the dog, Buyer will return dog to Seller and dog will not be given away, destroyed, or relinquished to a pound or shelter.
Another is to make both clauses active voice:
Buyer agrees that if at any time the buyer wishes to destroy or give away the dog, Buyer will return dog to Seller and not give dog away, destroy it, or relinquish it to a pound or shelter.
That's a bit more wordy, and has the object (dog/it) repeated three times, which clearly was what the author wanted to avoid. The problem with her solution was that she changed voice, making the object the subject (give dog away = dog is given away). But when the clauses are linked with "and", and the subject isn't stated in the passive clause, it simply can't be the object of the active one. "And" requires the same subject in the second, where it's not said, as in the first, where it is.

So another way to handle this would be

Buyer agrees that if at any time the buyer wishes to destroy or give away the dog, dog will be returned to Seller and will not be given away, destroyed, or relinquished to a pound or shelter.

Quick Quiz 25
Two different home owners on HGTV's shows "Designers' Challenge" and "Curb Appeal", broadcast the same night:

"The narrow railing looks way too thinly there."
"Look how wonderfully that looks."

I think this is caused by hypercorrection - the phenomenon of correcting too far, so that you create a whole new error. Normally one uses an adverb to modify a verb. But this isn't "normally".

"Looks" in both of these sentences is not an action verb. It's a linking verb: "thin" isn't describing how the railing looks, in the sense of the manner in which the railing visually observes the world; it's describing what the railing's appearance is like to those observing it. What does it look like? It's thin. Not, it's thinly.

Same thing goes for "that", whatever it was (I think it was a topiary). It looks wonderful.

"Looks" is a linking verb. It links the subject noun (or pronoun) with a predicate adjective describing it. It breaks down like this:

The thin railing = the railing is thin = the railing looks thin
Wonderful that = that is wonderful = that looks wonderful
Other linking verbs include "is, seems, appears, becomes, turns" and "grows". Of course, some of these, such as "looks" or "turns" can be intransitive verbs, and "grows" can be a transitive verb, too, as in "he looks up at the sky; she turns the hands of the clock", or "they grow wheat". In those cases, you would use adverbs: "he looks deeply into the sky, she turns the hands quickly, they grow wheat profitably".

What you have to look at is what is the verb doing? If it's describing an action the subject is taking, use an adverb to modify the verb. If, on the other hand, it's describing the subject by linking it to the following word, that word should be an adjective.

Quick Quiz 24

From a "Newsweek" article subtitle:
It was clear that [Saddam] was a threat, and the only way to counter him was to act quickly. Unfortunately, there wasn't any WMD.

WMD stands for "weapons of mass destruction". That's plural. You don't say "The WMD is hidden," do you? Nope, it's "The WMD are hidden." So it should be "There weren't any WMD."

Remember: you use "was" with singular nouns, or with 'mass' nouns - things like snow, or water, that can't be counted but are treated like a big mass or lump. Although the destruction may be mass, the weapons themselves can be counted, as is shown by the -S: one weapon, two weapons.

Quick Quiz 23
From the subtitles on the dvd of "Madadayo":
"A Akira Kurosawa Film"

This should have been "An Akira Kurosawa Film". In Standard English, "a" is used before all words that sound like they begin with consonants, and "an" is used for those that sound like they begin with vowels.

Thus, it's "an hour" but "a union" and "a one-hundred-dollar bill". Note that "hour" sounds like it starts with "o", while the others sound like they start with "y" and "w".

"Akira" is both spelled with a vowel and sounded with one. Thus, "an Akira" is correct.

[There is also the possibility, in some (mostly British) versions of Standard English, to also use "an" before words that begin with "h-" that do not have their stress on the first syllable. You'll most often see this with words like "historical" and "hotel".]

Quick Quiz 22

From a WTOP news story:
After telling us how Little Joe, a gorilla, had escaped the day before, run wild through the zoo, and finally been captured while sleeping in the evening, the reporter concluded her story by saying: "Little Joe had escaped from his cage again last month."
Here, the problem isn't really grammar, per se; it's not syntax. It's semantics. And not "just" semantics -- semantics, meaning, well, meaning. The problem is the word "again". What does that word mean?
  1. another time: at another time or on another occasion, repeating what has happened or been done before
    I hope to come here again some day.
  2. as before: to the place, person, or state where somebody or something was earlier
    Will I ever be able to walk again?
  3. in addition: in addition to a previously mentioned quantity
    You’ll need all that and half as much again.
  4. differently: on the other hand
    You may be right, but again you may be wrong.
The common thread? Repetition of something previous, earlier, before... But here, the "again" is happening before the "before", not after it. "Again" describes the next thing, not the previous one.

Little Joe had not escaped "again" last month -- because the thing being compared to "again" didn't happen six month ago, it happened yesterday. Thus, it should be "Little Joe had escaped from his cage previously (or "earlier" or "once before this") last month." (Unless, of course, Little Joes had escaped several times before that, and last month's escape was, in fact, again...)

Quick Quiz 21

From a news article (comcast.net):

B.J. Wie suggested Ammaccapane and Hanson should have cut he and his daughter some slack. "They play golf for a living, they know the etiquette," he said. "We don't know, we are still learning."
Nouns in English no longer change their form when they're the objects, but pronouns still do. And this error is especially jarring. You could expect to see "cut his daughter and he some slack", even though it's still incorrect Standard (after all, "his daughter and him" fits the paradigm of an undeclined phrase); but "cut he"? No, that's just not right.

The correct phrase should be "cut him and his daughter some slack", just as "cut him" or "cut me" or "cut them".

Quick Quiz 20

Chapter title in the book "The Man Who Found Time": Hutton's Boswell's
Another misplaced apostrophe! It's not missing whatever it was belonged to Hutton's Boswell (as, say, Hutton's Boswell's notebook) -- it's meant to be Hutton's Boswells (plural of Boswell, used figuratively to mean 'biographer').
No nouns in English form their plurals with an apostrophe. (Some abbreviations do, but no nouns.) With a noun, the apostrophe means (1) possession or (2) a verb has been contracted. Boswell's thus means (1) Boswell owns something or (2) Boswell is/has . That's it. (see below)

Quick Quiz 19

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (Reuters/22 Feb) - People have always been fascinated by creatures of mixed origin. The Egyptians had the Sphinx, with it's lion's body and human head. The Greeks had centaurs, which were half man, half horse, and chimeras, with the head of a lion and the tail of a dragon.
Once again, it's the infamous "IT'S"... "It" is a pronoun. Like "he, she, they, you, we" and "I", it does not form its possessive with an apostophe: His, her, their, your, our, my... his, hers, theirs, yours, ours, mine...
Nouns use the apostrophe. Pronouns do not. "It's" means "It is" (or "it has", as in "it's been done before").

So, the sentence should read: The Egyptians had the Sphinx, with its lion's body and human head.

Quick Quiz 18

A chapter heading for the episode "Maternal Instinct" on a Stargate SG-1 DVD:

"A Grizzly Find"
This is a perfect example of why Spell Check is a snare and a delusion. "Grizzly" is a perfectly good word. It's just the wrong one. "Grizzly" as an adjective means "somewhat gray". As a noun, it refers to a kind of bear. The word they wanted here is "grisly", which means "horrible, gruesome".

Quick Quiz 17

From an ad:

The Phazer, however, reflects a portion of the signal plus an added FM signal back to the police car. This, in effect, confusing the waiting radar unit.
What's wrong here is that the second sentence isn't a sentence, it's just a phrase. There are two ways to fix this:
  1. Change "This" to "thus" and put a comma after "police car"
    The Phazer, however, reflects a portion of the signal plus an added FM signal back to the police car, thus, in effect, confusing the waiting radar unit.
  2. Change "confusing" from a participle to a full verb, either present or future tense:
    The Phazer, however, reflects a portion of the signal plus an added FM signal back to the police car. This, in effect, confuses (will confuse) the waiting radar unit.
You could add the auxilliary verb to the participle (this, in effect, is confusing...) but it doesn't match the rest of the paragraph in style so it's not as good a solution.

Quick Quiz 16

From the Internet:

In a breaking story, Comics2Film has learned that Showtime Networks has officially greenlit the comic book adaptation Jeremiah for 2002.
A little hypercorrection again, perhaps. Or at least sticking to the wrong rule.

The verb "light" is a 'strong' verb (now called 'irregular'), meaning that it makes its past tense by changing the vowel: light - lit. There is a form 'lighted', of course, generally restricted to an transitive use meaning "set light to" rather than "filled with light", though both meanings can take both past tenses:

He lit the candle, and the candle lit the room.
He lit the candle, and the candle lighted the room.
He lighted the candle, and the candle lit the room.
He lighted the candle, and the candle lighted the room.
You probably don't accept all of those equally. You may even believe that "fill with light" needs a particle (lit up).
But for "to greenlight" there really is only one option: "greenlighted".

Why? Well, because the verb "light" is primarily a verb. The forms with "lighted" come from feeling that it derives from the noun "light". And that is precisely where the verb "greenlight" comes from: a noun phrase—green light. It's shorthand for "to give the green light to".

And in English, verbs that come from nouns are 'weak', or 'regular'. Which means they make their past tense by adding "-ED".

This is why baseball players "flied out" instead of "flew": because the verb "to fly out" comes from the noun in "to hit a fly". Once a verb becomes an adjective and then a noun (fly - fly ball - fly) and is once again transformed into a verb (to fly [out]), it regularizes. Thus, for another example: we rang the bell when the city was ringed by enemy artillery.

(In fact, that's the source of the differing options for "light": the verb means "to set light to, or to fill with light" and can be (and is) interpreted as deriving from the noun as easily as not.)

So, even though "lit" is correct, "greenlit" is not. At least, not as a verb.

Quick Quiz 15

From the game show "Win, Lose, or Draw":

Bert Convy, host: Show the audience whom this is.
This is a classic example of "hypercorrection": going too far in the other direction. The root problem is, of course, that "who" is, in the spoken language, almost never declined any more. As a result, many people are at a loss for when to say "who" and when to say "whom", and they start saying "whom" even when "who" is correct.

But there's more going on here than that. This is a parallel to another classic misuse of "whom", the old "May I say whom is calling?" In both cases, "whom" is being used because it's thought to be the object of the preceding verb (show the audience whom; May I say whom, and in a way that's correct. But only in a way. The actual object is the entire phrase: who this is (or who is this); who is calling.

And in those phrases, "who" is the subject and must remain in the nominative (or subject) case-form.

Look at this: Who is calling? - He is calling. - I will tell you he is calling (not him is calling). - I will tell you who is calling.
And with 'show', analyze it like this: what are you showing? Who this is.

I hear an objection... "Who is it?" "It's him." So, isn't it "This is whom?"
No, not in formal Standard English. It's true that "it's me, it's him" is common usage (because, as I say below, as pronouns lose their grammatical declension they are slowly acquiring a positional declension instead), but it's not Standard. Standard is "Who is it?" "It's I, it's he".

Soooooo - "Show the audience whom this is" is wrong now in formal Standard English, but right for the spoken vernacular. So, should Bert have said it? It's a toss-up; after all, "Win, Lose, or Draw" was a game.

Quick Quiz 14
From a news story:

"There are numerous examples of asteroids and comets in the last few years that have come very near to the world and have not been detected until the last minute or even after they pass by the world. One of them was coming in from the Sun and was not seen until after it passed the Earth's orbit. If any of these asteroids or comets would have hit the Earth, it would have been a catastrophic occasion, perhaps killing hundreds of millions of people," Rohrabacher said.

This statement is a simple "if" clause describing a situation contrary to fact. All that is required is "If + past tense, then past conditional". In this case, that first "would have" is completely unnecessary. "If any asteroid had hit the Earth, it would have been catastophic." Plain and simple. If it had (but it didn't), not "if it would have".

Another way to phrase this: when expressing the unreal, the result clauses need would, could or will. The condition clauses do not use those verbs; the condition clauses, instead, use verbs moved one step back in time from the result.

(The "would" in the if-clause may stem from the lingering memory of the subjunctive, but it's not quite that, either. The subjunctive uses "were" -- if it were to hit the Earth, if it were to have hit the Earth.)

Quick Quiz 13
: From the on-hold message at an ambulance company:

"Whether it's an emergency situation or a basic non-emergency transport, we think you and your family deserves the best, and we're fully prepated to provide that special service."
While in American English "family" is a singular noun (in British, it's a plural), and so takes the singular verb, here "family" isn't the only word in the subject of the clause. That subject is "You and your family"—two words, two things, therefore plural. The verb should match it: "you and your family deserve the best".

Quick Quiz 12
: From an (old) newspaper article about a basketball team:

"Catchings and Holdsclaw make a powerful combination; they compliment each other nicely on the court."
Words that sound alike but aren't spelled alike can pose a real problem. In this case, the words are "compliment" and "complement".
"ComplIment" means "to say something nice to/about". "ComplEment" on the other hand means "to match up, to go together, to fit together".
Unless Catchings and Holdsclaw are telling each other how good their play is and how nice their hair looks, the writer should have used "complement".

Quick Quiz 11
: From an interview on WPOC radio:

"But such a diverse coalition would rather be a fragile organization, wouldn't it?"
Adverb placement -- it really does matter! Adverbs modify many things in English, unlike adjectives, which only modify nouns. Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, other adverbs, and entire clauses. This makes their placement very important, as they modify whatever they precede (unless they're the last thing in the sentence, in which case it's what they followed). For instance: Obviously, if there's not much more to the sentence than verb + adverb, there's not much difference (He quickly ran/He ran quickly). But when there is ...

"Would rather be" is a phrase in which the "rather" means "prefer to", as in "I'd rather be lucky than smart". "Would be rather" is a phrase in which the "rather" means "somewhat", as in "I would be rather lucky to win". In this case, the coalition would not prefer to be fragile; it would rather be a strong organization. But it would be somewhat fragile, being so diverse. Thus, the sentence should be:

"But such a diverse coalition would be a rather fragile organization, wouldn't it?" or "But such a diverse coalition would be rather a fragile organization, wouldn't it?"

Quick Quiz 10
From a news article on line:

Space rocks fall through Earth's atmosphere regularly, and most pose little or no threat as they vaporize in the atmosphere, due to the intense heat created by friction as they speed Earthward at thousands of miles per hour. ... Some do fall to Earth. Some 400 tons of debris -- small rocks and dust -- rains down on Earth daily. But since the planet is about two-third's water, many fireballs and impacts are never noticed.
There are two problems with this. The verb "rains" needs to agree with "400 tons". I'm not sure why the author got this wrong. He may have felt that "some rains" (though as a noun, some is plural, and here it's an adjective anyway);he may have felt "400 tons" was a mass, though in this case it clearly isn't; or he may have been misled by all the stuff he put in between "tons" and the verb, and have been matching the verb to the word "debris". But, "of debris" modifies "tons". It's not debris raining, it's tons raining, and thus "400 tons rain down on Earth".

Second, "two-third's" is a possessive form. No nouns form their plural in English with an apostrophe. "The planet is two thirds water", just as "it is two parts water".

Quick Quiz 9
from a piece of fiction...

"So tell me, what’s the difference here?”
“There’s a huge difference.”
“Really? Well, it alludes me.”
This is a case of picking the wrong verb. "Allude" and "elude" sound fairly similiar, but they have entirely different meanings. "Allude (to)" means "to refer to", and is the source of "allusion". "Elude", on the other hand, means "to evade, to escape". In this case the author means that the difference has "escaped me" and hence, should have used "eludes".

Quick Quiz 8
From a web site with song lyrics:

I'll tell you of a young boy,
Who's age was just nineteen
He was the strongest Union Man
That I have ever seen.
This is a simple but common error (due to English's loss of most of our case forms). "Who" is not a noun, but a pronoun. While nouns form their possessives by adding 's, prounouns have forms with no apostrophes: his, hers, its, ours, yours, theirs, whose.

Sometimes, the pronoun forms have no -S at all: her, our, your, their ... these are used "attributively", meaning, they are directly linked to the noun they modify. So, "her dog" but "the dog is hers". "His" and "whose" use the same form for both functions (the other is called "predicative use", if you're interested). And of course, "my" and "mine" (and now archaic "thy" and "thine", and dialect "hisn, hern, yourn, ourn, theirn" come from another early version of English, where -N rather than -S marked possession. In a way, that form is more reasonable: you can't confuse possession with plural. But it lost...

The key point here: Pronouns do not use apostrophes to make their possessives.

Quick Quiz 7
(from an Apple ad)

Every iBook is powered by 500 MHz Power PC G3 processors, and offer up to twice the onboard memory, twice the memory expansion, and twice the storage than previous models.

There are several things wrong here. First, the verb "offer" is in the wrong person. Its subject is "every iBook", and thus must be "offers". Note that it parallels "is": Every iBook is and offers...
Next, "than" is the incorrect choice in this case. It should be "as": twice the memory as previous models. (You could get away with "of": twice the memory of previous models.) Why? Well, sort of just because.
"Than" is used in the second half of comparisons, but only when the first half is a adjective in the comparative (that's the -ER or MORE form) degree. Thus, "it offers MORE memory THAN previous models". "As" is used in parallel constructions, that is, when the two parts of the sentence are the same in form.
In this sentence, "previous models" is the same as "every iBook". With no words left out (leaving words out is perfectly okay when it's obvious what they are; in fact, it's very often better than putting them in and being redundant and boring), this sentence would be "Every iBook is powered by 500 MHz Power PC G3 processors, and offers up to twice the onboard memory, twice the memory expansion, and twice the storage as previous models do (or offer)."
Thus, we don't have a simple comparison but an extended parallel structure. To use "than", you'd need to make "previous models" connect to memory: "than previous models' capacity" (or some such).

Quick Quiz 6

From "The Daily Show"'s mailing list:

"It is just as funny as TDS with a different slant. There "ask an American" segment is usually great."
"There" is an adverb meaning "in that place". It can also be a 'dummy subject' (with the verb "is" or "are") in sentences such as "There is an error here." (These are called "existential statements", if you're interested.)
"Their" is a possessive meaning "belonging to them".
In this sentence, "their" is needed: The "Ask an American" segment belonging to them is usually great.

Quick Quiz 5

From an on-line news summary:

"How will new technologies effect the home? How will students be effected by the new technologies?"
"Effect" and "affect" are words often confused, as here. They mean: Thus, "affect" is the verb used when you mean "influence" or "change".

Quick Quiz 4

From MPT Magazine, Oct 1999:

Regarding the columns, approximately 1 in 5 respondents reads some of them, and, though enjoyed, were willing to sacrifice.
Answer: Halfway through this sentence, the author lost track of what was his subject and what his object. "Enjoyed" is a active verb -- a participle, in fact -- and it must have an object. What was enjoyed? The columns. Who enjoyed them? The respondents, who were willing to sacrifice them though they enjoyed them. But, the sentence as written, falls apart around this word.

Regarding the columns... respondents read them and, though enjoyed, were willing: this, as written, refers to the respondents as the object of the participle, meaning that the respondents were enjoyed by something else. This is so because the phrase "though enjoyed" is joined to "reads and were willing". "Enjoyed" as a participle is passive, while "reads and were" is active, thus the subject they share is the actor of one (willing) but the object of the other.

Break it down like this:

About the columns
some respondents read them
though they are enjoyed by the readers
they are willing to sacrifice them

(It's not helped by the needless switch from singular (reads) to plural (were); it's not even as though there was going to be a "he" the author might have wanted to avoid. Regarding the columns, 1 in 5 respondent reads them and was (even better, is) willing to sacrifice.)

This entirely awkward sentence should read along these lines: "Regarding the columns: approximately 1 in 5 respondents reads them, and, though the columns were enjoyed, is willing to sacrifice." -- or, even better: "reads and enjoys them, but is willing to sacrifice them."

Quick Quiz 3

From a tv commercial:

In today's changing financial world, who can you rely on? How about a company that millions already do?
Answer: While there isn't anything technically wrong with this sentence, its awkward construction brings you to a halt, especially considering that it's delivered via the spoken word. The addition of the word "trust" at the end [that millions already [do] trust?] would have avoided that jarring feeling.

Quick Quiz 2

From a history article discussing British resistance to Roman rule:

Edward Gibbon in his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire records the invasions [of Britain] in great detail and quotes Agricola's contemplated invasion of Ireland, and regrets that it did not take place because 'the Britons would wear their chains with less reluctance, if the prospect and example of freedom were on every side removed from before their eyes'.
Answer: The author makes it sound as if Gibbon rather than Agricola is regretting the failure of the invasion. "Gibbon records ... and quotes ... and regrets ...". A clearer sentence would have read "Gibbon records the invasions and quotes Agricola's contemplated invasion and his regrets" or "quotes Agricola's contemplated invasion and his disappointment".

Quick Quiz 1

From a news story:

Mrs Morris responded to reporters by saying, "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone."
Answer: Although someone wrote into The Post claiming that it should read "Let he who is...", this sentence is, in fact, correct as it stands. Him is the object of the verb let, and who is the subject of the phrase who is without sin.


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